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Phillies Begin 2012 Quest for Success

March 4th, 2012

Welcome back subscribers to Blogging Baseball as the 2012 Spring Training exhibition games begin, and as the Phillies begin their quest for success — hopes for a sixth straight NL East championship, which would be their third NL pennant in six seasons, and for their second World Championship in six seasons.

Blogging Baseball went into a early 2011 post-season hiatus after the Phils loss of their divisional series in 5 games to the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.   As 1st baseman Ryan Howard tore his achilles tendon on the final out of the decisive 5th game, this author was in the midst of dealing with personal issues.

Ryan Howard
This season, blog posts will be less frequent, but hopefully more concise and even more informative.

The Phils begin the new season minus a few familiar faces are missing and some new faces have been added:

Who’s Gone:
GM Reuben Amaro Jr. let last season’s standout closer, and a fixture in the Phils’ bullpen for years, Ryan Madson go in free agency, just when it looked like a deal was about to be signed and sealed keeping Madson in Phils’ red pinstripes.  Madson, and his agent found the free agency closer market tough this off-season and Madson ultimately signed with the Cincinnati Reds for far less than he and his agent had hoped for, and far less than Amaro paid to sign Jon Papelbon away from the  Boston Red Sox.
Wilson Valdez
Popular utility infielder, and nineteenth inning pitcher Wilson Valdez was released by team in the off-season and signed by Cincinnati.Leftfielder Raul Ibanez, a fixture in leftfield since 2009, was released by the team after another slumping season in 2011.  He signed with the Yankees and opened the exhibition season going 1 for 3 with and RBI double as the Yankees beat the Phils in their Saturday game by an 8-5 score.

Starting pitcher Roy Oswalt, thought to be the fourth of the four aces rotation and who suffered through an injury-ridden 2011, still shows up on Yahoo sports as connected with the Phillies although his name does not show up on the Phils’ spring training roster.

Outfielder Ben Francisco, whose seventh inning winning pinch-hit 3-run homer made a winner out of starter Cole Hamels and gave the Phils a temporary 2 games to 1 lead over the Cards, was released by the club in the post-season.

Closer Brad Lidge, the hero of the 2008 Championship season and who successfully closed 48 games without a blown save as the Phils won every game where they had a lead in the eighth inning, was released by the club after having sub-par subsequent seasons and suffering with leg and back injury issues.  Lidge was picked up by the Washington Nationals.

Who’s New:
With Howard’s projected return to the active roster unknown, the Phils went looking in the off-season for stop-gaps to fill the hole left, as well as to bolster their utility corps and pinch-hitting.  They acquired former 1st baseman and possessor of over 600 career homers — Jim Thome from the Cleveland Indians, as well as Ty Wigginton, who can play both 3rd base and 1st base as well as the outfield corners and hit for some power,  and Laynce Nix who can also play 1st base as well as all 3 outfield positions.

The Phils also went for bolstering their bullpen with acquisitions of closer Papelbon, reliever Chad Qualls, as well as former  Marlins’ phenom Dontrelle Willis, who could give additional lefthanded relief flexibility should lefthanded reliever Antonio Bastardo get shelled as ocurred in the final games of the 2011 regular season.  Papelbon had a perfect fifth inning in the opener with the Yanks.

The 2012 Phils look to rev-up their offense, which at times during the 2011 season went flat putting additional pressure on their rotation of aces and the bullpen.   They need more productivity out of leadoff hitter and shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and returns to form by 2nd baseman Chase Utley and 3rd baseman Placido Polanco — both oft-injured in 2011.  2/3rds of the outfield look solid with the ‘Flyin’ Hawaiian’ Shane Victorino in centerfield and Hunter Pence in right.  The real question in the outfield is:  Will 2012 be the season that Domonic Brown proves ready for major league prime time and lock down the leftfield spot vacated with the release of Ibanez, or will he be platooned with John Mayberry Jr.?  Mayberry Jr. could also see time at 1st base, along with Thome, Wigginton and Nix — on spelling Howard until he returns.   Imagine a lineup of Rollins, Polanco, Wigginton with Utley batting clean-up and Pence batting 5th.

With the first 3 spots in the rotation solid locks with aces in Roy Halladay and lefthanders Cliff Lee and Hamels, there will be a heck of battle for the 4th and 5th starter spots between Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick and rookie sensation Vance Worley.   If there is any pitching questions, they focus on the bullpen.  Will David Herndon and Michael Stutes deliver as in 2011.   Will Antonio Bastardo repeat the lights-out performances of 3/4 of the 2011 season or flame-out early.   And will Dontrelle Willis come out of the bullpen to spell Bastardo in the lefty relief spot?  Will young relievers Joe Savery and Michael Schwimer rise to major league levels and give the bullpen a lift?   Will Jose Contreras return to the form his showed in 2011 before going down with his injury. Will Papelbon be a lights-out closer with the Phillies, as he was through his seasons with the Red Sox?   Will his performance in 2012 approach or exceed Madson’s level of 2011?How the offense and relief pitching perform seem key to the Phillies’ fortunes in the 2012 season. By the way, the Phils and Yankees played their exhibition openers on Saturday with the Phils on the short end of the score.  The two teams play again on Sunday, this time in the Yankees’ Florida venue.   

Here’s hoping for an NL pennant and World Championship in 2012.  Let’s go Phillies!!

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Carpenter Bests Halladay, Cardinals Get By Lifeless Phillies Offense to NLCS

October 9th, 2011

If an EKG were taken on the Phillies offense, the reading would be lifeless, flatter than Israeli lafa on Yom Kippur.   The first 2 St. Louis hitters tripled and doubled off of ace Roy Halladay on Friday to drive in the only run of the game.  Then Halladay retired the next 10 Cardinals, but the single run held up as Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter gave up 3 hits, 2 of them to centerfielder Shane Victorino and the other to 2nd baseman Chase Utley, while hitting Utley and getting 19 infield outs enroute to pitching a complete game shutout.   Halladay was brilliant giving up only 6 hits while walking 1 and striking out 7 while tossing 126 pitches in eight innings.  But the offense was nowhere to be found.   The Phils went down meekly in the ninth as 1st baseman Ryan Howard grounded out to 2nd base to end the game, while injuring his  left Achilles’ heel in the process.   We wait to hear on the severity of Howard’s injury as Carpenter bests Halladay and the Cardinals get By the lifeless Phillies offense 1-0 to advance to the NLCS.

In Friday’s other NLDS deciding game, the Milwaukee Brewers will face the Cardinals in the NLCS after edging the Arizona Diamondbacks by 3-2 in ten innings on centerfielder Nyjer Morgan’s 1 out walkoff RBI single.

Shortstop Rafael Furcal led off against Halladay with a triple and Skip Schumaker followed him with a double and the Cards were quickly on the board.  Regrettably, that 1 run stood up as the Phils offense was off-again and thus dispatched to join the Yankees on the golf circuit.

The Phils offense, beside Victorino, Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins were beyond horrible.  After game one’s breakout, they took early 4-0 and 2-0 nothing leads in games 2 and 4 before lapsing into comas.  And only outfielder Ben Francisco’s pinch 3 run homer in game 3’s win gave the Phils a temporary 2 games to 1 lead, but in retrospect, kept the Phils from falling even earlier.

AP’s game recap for Yahoo sports provides more on Friday’s season-ending fiasco.

AP sports writer Rob Maaddi writes a follow-up on the end of the Phillies’ season noting:

The Philadelphia Phillies found out that pitching doesn’t win championships. It takes clutch hitting, too.

Only Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino did anything offensively. The overall hitting woes shouldn’t be a surprise, however.

Several players have been on the decline for the past few seasons.

A lineup that features seven regulars who’ve been All-Stars was downright awful against the Cardinals. Five players hit below .211.

Howard and Placido Polanco each went 2 for 19.  Hunter Pence was 4 for 19.  Raul Ibanez was 3 for 15.  Carlos Ruiz had one hit in 17 at-bats.

An AP report on Sunday reports:

…Ryan Howard might miss the start of spring training and possibly part of the regular season after tearing an Achilles tendon.

“He cannot have surgery until the swelling resolves, and it has not been determined who will perform the surgery,” the Phillies said in a statement. “Recovery time won’t be known until after the surgery is complete, and there is no guarantee he will be ready for spring training.”

Injuries of that type usually require at least six months of recuperation. When soccer star David Beckham tore his Achilles tendon on March 14 last year, he was sidelined until Sept. 11.

What a way for Howard to begin his 5 year, $125 million contract extension.

This will mark the final 2011 game result post, although we will keep tabs on the LCS games in both leagues as well as the World Series and off-season events, trades, etc.

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Tigers Pound Nova With Back-to-Back Homers, Edge Yankees to go to ALCS

October 7th, 2011

Detroit Tigers Beat Yankees in ALDS
Click photo for post-game video report
With 1 out in the first inning, the latter 2 of Yankee starter Ivan Nova’s next 3 pitches went yard as 3rd baseman Don Kelly and leftfielder Delmon Young wasted no time slamming back-to-back dingers to give the Detroit Tigers a 2-0 lead.  Nova, who threw 31 pitches in two innings, left after complaining of arm soreness after which the Yanks paraded out 6 pitchers, including ace lefthander C.C. Sabathia who gave up what turned out to be the winning run in the fifth inning on a 2 out RBI single by DH Victor Martinez which followed a leadoff double by centerfielder Austin Jackson and an intentional walk to 1st baseman Melky Cabrera.  Tigers’ starter  Doug Fister threw 92 pitches while holding the Yanks at bay.  2nd baseman Robinson Cano’s solo shot in the fifth was the only run scored on Fister although the Yankees had their chances. The Yanks got a run on a bases loaded walk in the seventh off of reliever Max Scherzer.  But Tigers pitching held on throughout despite 2 Yanks bases loaded jams and other assorted threats, getting the Yanks out in the eighth after a 2 out single, and in order in the ninth as closer Jose Valverde notched his 2nd post-season save fanning  A-Rod (or is that A-Roid??)  swinging on 4 pitches to end it as the Tigers pounded Nova with back-to-back homers and edge the Yankees 3-2 to go to ALCS.

Just a bit of editorializing here.  Just because the Yankees have won 27 world championships over the 88 seasons since they won their 1st crown in 1923, that doesn’t automatically make them baseball’s greatest team in 2011, as the Detroit Tigers aptly showed.   In my humble opinion, they are a long way from the eras of Ruth/ Gehrig, Joltin’ Joe, Whitey Ford, Mantle and Maris or Mr. October.  Alex Rodriguez (aka A-Rod, or A-Roid),  Derek Jeter, Sabathia and company are just a bunch of grossly overpaid, under-working spoiled brats on a wacko team in a wacko town — New York City.   The Yanks are going nowhere, but to the golf course, in 2011 and forseeable seasons to come!   And it’ll sure be nice to walk down the street without being accosted by young Yankee fans shouting insults at the Phillies.

Check out the video above: the Tigers committed NO errors during the 5 game series.

AP’s game recap for Yahoo sports provides game highlights here and here.

In Friday’s deciding game 5 between the Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals, ace Roy Halladay, who won game 1,  is scheduled to oppose Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter.

For all of Thursday’s and Friday’s scheduled playoff games throughout MLB, click here and here.

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Cardinals Even Series, Beat Oswalt and Phillies on Freeze’s Homer and 4 RBIs

October 6th, 2011

The Phillies ripped St. Louis starter Edwin Jackson for 2 runs in the first inning on Jackson’s first 5 pitches on Wednesday before their bats went totally flat until the eighth inning.   The Cards came back with a run against  Roy Oswalt in their first on rightfielder Lance Berkman’s 2 out RBI double and took the lead on David Freese’s 1 out, 2 run RBI double in the fourth.   Freese later broke the game open against Oswalt with a sixth inning  2 out, 2 run homer to centerfield.  Meanwhile, Jackson cruised through the sixth inning as Phillies bats retreated into a shell with but 3 hitters reaching, 2 on singles and 1 via Jackson’s only walk.  They went down in order in the seventh before threatening in the eighth against reliever Fernando Salas on singles by pinch hitter Ross Gload and 2nd baseman Chase Utley.    The Phils 3rd and final run scored on a 1 out wild pitch by Salas.  However Utley was stranded at 2nd base as rightfielder Hunter Pence grounded out and 1st baseman Ryan Howard went down on strikes swinging.   The Phils went down in order meekly in the ninth as the Cardinals evened the series, beating Oswalt and Phillies by 5-3 on Freeze’s Homer and 4 RBIs.

In Wednesday’s only the other playoff game, the Arizona Diamondbacks tied up their series at 2 games apiece with the Milwaukee Brewers battering starter Randy Wolf early and often for 7 runs, including 3rd baseman  Ryan Roberts’ 1st inning Grand Slam followed back-to-back by Chris Young’s solo dinger enroute to a 10-6 win.

The only bright spots for Phillies, once their offense ran dry, were 2 excellent one inning relief efforts; an 8 pitch seventh for Joe Blanton and a 10 pitch eighth inning, including a strikeout for Brad Lidge as the last 6 Cards went down in order.

Beyond that, there was little to cheer about as the Phils’ flatter than Israeli lafa offense couldn’t bail Oswalt out after his 2 mistakes, although the game was still reachably close, even after Freese’s dinger.  AP’s game recap provides further notes on Wednesday’s game.

For all of Wednesday’s playoff results in both leagues, click here.

In Friday’s deciding game 5, ace Roy Halladay, who won game 1, is scheduled to oppose Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter.

For all of Thursday’s and Friday’s scheduled playoff games throughout MLB, click here and here.

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Francisco’s Pinch-Homer Pushes Phillies Past Cardinals to Playoff Lead

October 5th, 2011

Ben Francisco      Cole Hamels
Phillies outfielder Ben Francisco collected easily the biggest hit of his 5 year MLB career on Tuesday when he stepped up to pinch hit for starter lefthander Cole Hamels in the seventh inning.  With 2 out and 2 on base, on a single and an intentional walk, Francisco blistered St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia’s 2nd offering, a fastball up, 405 feet out to left centerfield for what was only his 2nd hit in 19 career at-bats in the postseason.  It couldn’t have come at a better time and it made Hamels the winning pitcher in game 3.  Until then, Hamels and Garcia had tossed six scoreless innings each in a classic duel of lefties.   Although the Cards scored a run in their seventh off of rookie Vance Worley, got 2 hits in the eighth off a shaky Brad Lidge and scored their 2nd run in the ninth with 2 out off of closer Ryan Madson, Madson held on getting 2nd baseman Ryan Theriot on a 6 pitch ground out to record his 1st save of the 2011 post-season as Francisco’s pinch-homer pushed the Phillies past the Cardinals by 3-2 and into the playoff lead.

In other playoff games, the Arizona Diamondbacks got into the win column as they battered Milwaukee starter  Shaun Marcom for 7 runs enroute to an 8-1 win.  Milwaukee leads the series by 2-1.   In the American League, the Texas Rangers edged the Tampa Bay Rays to win their playoff series by 3 games to 1.   Meanwhile, the  Yankees pounded Detroit for 6 runs in the eighth inning enroute to a 10-1 rout to deadlock their series at 2 games apiece.

The Cards had runners on in every inning of the game but could only plate 2 late-inning runs as Hamels shut out them out through six innings despite giving up 5 hits and issuing 3 walks.   Hamels struck out 8.

AP’s game recap for Yahoo sports provides highlights on Tuesday’s game:

So much for Francisco’s postseason futility and his lack of success against Jaime Garcia before his game-changer.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa’s decisions in the crucial seventh inning were ripe for second-guessing. He let Garcia bat in the sixth with two men on and then let Garcia keep pitching, and both moves backfired.

Garcia struck out on Hamels’ 117th pitch to end the sixth and keep it scoreless, and just a few minutes later served up a fat pitch that Francisco hammered over the left field wall and into the visitor’s bullpen.

“Well, it didn’t work, so that’s bad managing,” La Russa said. “I’m watching him pitch and was really pleased. I thought he was the guy to continue pitching and I knew the matchups were in our favor. It didn’t work.”

Even Garcia dissociated himself from the call to intentionally walk Carlos Ruiz before Francisco’s homer.

“That wasn’t my idea,” Garcia said. “That’s what (La Russa) wanted to do and that’s what we did.”

Second baseman Chase Utley was perfectly positioned to turn a double play to end the eighth on   Allen Craig’s sharply hit grounder with the bases loaded. Madson allowed Yadier Molina’s RBI single in the ninth before earning the save.

“That was a lot of fun, a lot of fun,” Madson said. “I wish I was a lot better but I guess I was good enough and that’s all that matters.”

After stranding 14 runners to frustrate a season-best crowd of 46,914, the Cardinals are in an yet another win-or-else predicament. They won the NL wild card on the final day of the season, erasing a 10 1/2 -game deficit on Aug. 25 to overtake the Braves.

“Somebody was going to be up 2-1 after this game anyway, so the series doesn’t end just because they’re up 2-1,”  Lance Berkman said.  “We’ll come back out tomorrow and see what happens.”

Several Cardinals said it was no coincidence that neither team scored the first six innings. Shadows during games with late-afternoon start times have bedeviled the hitters and Berkman joked that when he learned Game 3 would begin at 4:07 p.m. CDT, “I threw a tantrum, stomped my feet and stuff like that. Didn’t do any good.”

“I didn’t know it was a homer, I knew I hit it good,” Francisco said. “I saw it bounce over the fence and just pure excitement, pure joy.”

Hamels struck out eight in six scoreless innings and reversed a disturbing trend after allowing nine homers in September, with a pair of doubles by [Albert] Pujols the only extra-base hits. He’s a franchise-best 7-4 in the postseason with a 3.09 ERA.

Pujols and Ryan Theriot had four hits apiece for St. Louis with Pujols getting his 22nd career multihit game in the postseason. The Cardinals came up empty despite three hits in the eighth, including a pinch-hit single by Matt Holliday in only his second appearance of the series.

For all of Monday’s and Tuesday’s playoff results in both leagues, click here and here.

Roy Oswalt hopes to lead the Phillies to a series win in Wednesday’s game 4, thus avoiding a return home to Philly for a decisive 5th game in Citizen’s Bank Park.  He opposes Edwin Jackson who lost and was pounded in his only career outing against the Phils.  Oswalt was 1-1 vs the Cards this season, most recently tossing seven innings of 5 hit shutout ball on September 17th as the Phils clinched the division title with a 9-2 win.

For all of Wednesday’s scheduled playoff games throughout MLB, click here.

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Cardinals Pound Lee, Edge Phillies to Even Playoffs

October 3rd, 2011

The Phillies got to St. Louis Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter early; for 3 first inning runs and a run in the second.    With All-Star lefthander Cliff Lee pitching, bank on the win. Right? Not!    Staked to a 4-0 lead, Lee was socked with 3 fourth inning runs on 4 hits and a walk, followed by single runs in the sixth and seventh inning as the Phils offense went into a complete shell.   Carpenter lasted three innings, but after the second inning, he and 6 Cards relievers held the on-again, off-again Phillies offense to 2 baserunners over the final seven innings.   2nd year outfielder Jon Jay went 2 for 3 with a walk and drove in 2 runs as the Cardinals pounded Lee and edged the Phillies by 5-4 to even the NL division playoff series at a game apiece.

In the other NL division series game, the Arizona Diamondbacks pounded 3 homers but were routed 9-4 by the  Milwaukee Brewers who took a 2-0 lead in their series.

The usually reliable Lee struck out 9 but had trouble with the leadoff hitters in the first and second innings, although he escaped unscathed until the 3 run Cardinal fourth.  Clinging to the 4-3 lead, Lee set the side down in order in the fifth and looked ready to cruise getting the 1st two outs in the sixth.  But 2nd baseman Ryan Theriot doubled and Jay drove him in with a single to tie the game.   Then, in the seventh, rightfielder Allen Craig led off with a triple to deep centerfield and scored as 1st baseman Albert Pujols followed with a single into shallow left center for what would be the winning run.

Once again, the Phils went into an offensive shell after putting up the 4 runs in the first two innings.   After the 1st 2 innings, the only runners reaching for the Phils were shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who went 3 for 4 with 2 towering doubles, nearly homers, and scoring 2 runs for the game and who singled with 2 outs in the seventh only to be caught trying to steal 2nd base, and 2nd baseman Chase Utley who led off the eighth by being hit by a pitch from reliever  Mitchell Boggs but was left stranded.  The Phils went down on 9 pitches with nary a wimper in the ninth as  Jason Motte was credited with the save.   Reliever Octavio Dotel, who pitched the sixth and 1/3 of the seventh inning was credited with the win.  The only bright spot for the Phils, after the second inning, was that 4 Phils relievers held the Cards to 1 hit and a total of 3 base runners after Lee’s seventh inning departure with none out and over the final three innings.

AP’s game recap for Yahoo sports provides more lowlights of Monday’s game.

For all of Sunday’s playoff results in both leagues, click here.

The two teams have Monday off before travelling to St. Louis for Tuesday’s game 3 another Phils All Star lefthander Cole Hamels against Jaime Garcia for the Cards in a battle of lefties.

For all of Monday’s and Tuesday’s scheduled playoff games throughout MLB, click here and here.

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